1959 Fleer Ted Williams: The Teddy Ballgame Baseball Card Set
April 1, 2008
by William Szczepanek
It’s unusual to find a baseball card set honoring a player’s life while the player is still playing. Fleer did just that by signing Ted Williams away from #1 Topps in 1959 just two years after Williams electrified baseball again by hitting .388 at the age of 39. He would play another year before retiring, and would hit .316, with 29 home runs and a .645 slugging average — a career year for most players.
Williams led the league in many categories over his career. One that rarely gets attention is the number of nicknames he was known by over the years. Born Theodore Samual Williams and named after Teddy Roosevelt, he later was immediately recognized by the following appellations: The Kid, the Splendid Splinter, The Thumper and Teddy Ballgame.
I reflect on this 1959 Fleer set now because I can’t think of a player today that would warrant having a complete set depicting their life. Most players’ lives outside of their baseball career don’t amount to much. But, as most people know Williams had a decorated military career that robbed him of 5 years of playing in the majors while still in his prime. He was a sport fisherman with his own television show and was inducted into the Sport Fisherman Hall of Fame.
While his legendary .406 batting average in 1941 was overshadowed by DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, it is a fairly unknown fact that Williams holds the record for most consecutive games reaching base, 84 in 1949, and that he reached base in 16 consecutive appearances in 1957.
My fascination with this set in 1959 was somewhat different than most kids. I did not have friends who had an interest in these cards, but I liked to read about players and had books on playing baseball by people like Bob Feller. The cards included aspects of Williams’ early life, his military career, his fishing achievements, his baseball achievements and tips on how to hit. It was the tips that attracted me to the cards. At the time the cards dealing with his military exploits as a Marine Corps pilot did not much interest me, though now they add a lot to the story of his life and his bravery as a man.
While his brashness irritated many people, including the Boston press, I would listen to his interviews and get the impression that I was listening to the expert. While Mickey Mantle, in his Oklahoma drawl and “Aw shucks!” attitude, made him very likable, Williams didn’t care whether you liked him or not. He just spoke his mind. When the greatest hitter in baseball gives you detailed instruction on how to hold the bat, swing the bat and most importantly, how to think, you tend to listen intently. Then you watch him hit and you marvel at his skills. I believe his natural talent was probably more important than his study of hitting, but the combination made him the self-proclaimed best.
"A man has to have goals - for a day, for a lifetime - and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"
A set of cards depicting the life of Ted Williams was very meaningful to me. I read the cards like a book. To my surprise I was able to buy a few packs of cards per week and without much effort or expense I had accumulated all but one card of the set of 80 cards. I remember asking friends in my neighborhood to let me know if they ever saw someone with this card #68. I had no idea what was on the card, so I couldn’t tell anyone what I was missing. #68 was a picture of Ted Williams and GM, Bucky Harris. Harris was still under contract with Topps, and Fleer was requested to stop production of the card. Collectors had to request the card from Fleer to complete their sets, a fact that was beyond the scope of abilities of this 11 year old collector. Completing sets back then wasn’t as important as it is now because it was nearly impossible to do such a thing on an allowance of 25 cents a week, or five packs of cards. Overall, this set was not popular enough for Fleer to make significant inroads in the baseball card market against Topps, but it was a treasure to me.
After hearing all the stories of Williams’ temper and aloofness I was very hesitant upon meeting him to ask him to autograph the baseball card shown here. He was very friendly, signed the card and shook hands. He looked much taller than 6’ 3”. His hands looked enormous and his arm muscles were much larger than I expected from the skinny guy named the Splendid Splinter. He was larger than life.
Harry Ellsworth – Fleer Ted Williams Promotional Items
Harry Ellsworth, known as “Candy Man”, worked as an
advertising executive for companies such as Nabisco, Nestle,
Tootsie Roll and Fleer Gum, among others. He was
responsible for the TV cartoon ad where an owl is asked” Mr.
Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a
Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?” Mr. Ellsworth passed away in
May of 2008.
The pictures shown here represent a promotional item that Mr.
Ellsworth used at trade shows and conventions. The card is
the size of three regular cards side by side with three sample
card pictures from the series. The 1st (#65) is a four
picture sequence of
While the card has some obvious imperfections it appears to be quite rare. If there is any interest in this card, or if anyone would have any further information regarding the quantities and value, please get back to me and I will pass the word along.
1959 Fleer Ted Williams Checklist
1. The Early Years